NEW YORK (AP) — When Joan Osborne first met Bob Dylan, the two singers got very, very close. There wasn’t much of a choice — they had to share the same recording studio microphone.
“I’m like literally inches away from his face,” Osborne recalled. “I had to focus so particularly on his mouth and his lips just to get the phrasing right — because I was doing harmony to him and I had to match him — that the whole room became this tunnel.”
On that day in 1998, the two did three quick versions of his iconic song “Chimes of Freedom,” which would play over the end credits of the NBC show “The 60’s.” Each take was completely different.
“You’ve got to be focused on him or you’re going to be left behind. I felt like that was an interesting challenge but also, for me, it was a testament just to the way his mind works so quickly,” she said. “He has an idea. He does it. He’s bored with it, he moves on to something else.”
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Osborne, 55, clearly wasn’t bored with Dylan or his songs. The Grammy-nominated singer of the hit “One of Us” has put together a new album of her unique takes on 13 of his classic tunes. “Songs of Bob Dylan,” released Friday, is equal parts tribute album, musical experiment and fan letter. On the album cover, she stands arms folded as she leans on a car as a subtle homage to an old image of the rock great.
“There’s political songs — like ‘Masters of War’ — and then there’s very tender, romantic love songs like ‘Buckets of Rain’ and kind of everything in between,” said Osborne. “He’s got this incredible range of what he can do as a writer so I wanted to dig into all those different territories of what he’s capable of doing.”
She also shows what she’s capable of doing, especially on “Highway 61 Revisited,” which leans on Middle Eastern rhythms. Osborne was inspired by Dylan’s use of biblical imagery in the song and decided to weave in sounds from the area. “Certainly, Dylan’s version is amazing and incredible and we were not trying to out-do him. What we were trying was to bring a different flavor and a different perspective.”
John Ingrassia, who worked with Dylan when he was an executive at Columbia Records, said he was enthusiastic to hear what Osborne could do. Now Osborne’s manager, he called her “one of our great treasures and underappreciated…